Lovers Lane
Copernicus Center

Chris Walla interview

| January 30, 2008

Chris Walla
Homeland Insecurities

It comes as no surprise that certain artists set themselves up as lightning rods for controversy. Britney Spears’ ongoing crusade to become the new Courtney Love stands as the most obvious example right now. Still, others go out of their way to create and sustain mischief, which is actually even sadder. (Anyone care for Marilyn Manson in 2008? Didn’t think so.) And then there are those artists who, out of nowhere, court an alarming level of trouble, and you never see it coming.

Ladies and gentlemen, cue Chris Walla, solo artist.


The longtime guitarist for Death Cab For Cutie and producer for the indie elite (including the likes of Tegan And Sara, The Decemberists, and yes, Death Cab) recently found himself in the midst of a sudden and surprising cyclone of controversy. All of which, at least initially, seemed to stem from the lyrical content of his debut solo effort, Field Manual (Barsuk).

That’s because late last year, while crossing the Canadian border in the hands of a Vancouver recording studio employee en route to Walla, a hard drive containing *Field Manual files was seized and subsequently detained by U.S. Customs agents. In the end, it wasn’t the contents of the record or even the hard drive itself that caused it to be detained (Homeland Security says the drive was commercial, not personal, property and entered the U.S. through an improper port without paperwork). Yet that didn’t stop rampant speculation that the government was attempting to censor Walla’s solo effort. “There was no way that anybody could possibly have known what was on this record,” Walla says assuringly. “That’s patently impossible.”

Regardless of the Border Patrol’s intent, Walla lost valuable time and files in the process. A lesser artist would’ve thrown a public fit and shouted foul to anyone willing to listen. Yet Walla not only puts the incident in perspective, but views the trial as a learning experience.

“It was an interesting process,” he recalls. “I learned a lot, I understand a lot more about the [Department Of Homeland Security] and how that stuff all works. I learned that there are three different classes of the verb that can happen to your stuff when it gets taken from you at the border. It can either get — in descending order of severity — seized, confiscated, or detained. And my drive was actually detained at the border. I have a friend at the Seattle Board Of Security office now, which is great. I don’t know, the whole thing was just, sort of baffling, and, kind of terrifying, and kind of awesome, in a way. Just not something that you would ever expect to be the thing that would define a corner of one’s year, but, it totally did.”

Still, conspiracy theorists had ample reason to suspect The Powers That Be might want to silence Walla, or, more specifically, what he says on Field Manual. The record takes issue with the likes of FEMA’s Hurricane Katrina failure (“Everyone Needs A Home”), as well as calling out aging senators on their pro-life stances (“Archer V Light”). To say Walla wasn’t pulling any punches would be putting it lightly.

Jaime de’Medici

To read more of Walla’s rough entry into singer-songwriterdom, grab the February issue of Illinois Entertainer, available free throughout Chicagoland.

Category: Features, Monthly

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